Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Published January 2011 by Penguin Group
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
Source: paperback and audiobook copies are mine
Three sisters have returned to their childhood home, reuniting the eccentric Andreas family. Here, books are a passion (there is no problem a library card can't solve) and TV is something other people watch. Their father-a professor of Shakespeare who speaks almost exclusively in verse-named them after the Bard's heroines. It's a lot to live up to.
The sisters have a hard time communicating with their parents and their lovers, but especially with one another. What can the shy homebody eldest sister, the fast-living middle child, and the bohemian youngest sibling have in common? Only that none has found life to be what was expected; and now, faced with their parents' frailty and their own personal disappointments, not even a book can solve what ails them...
What I Liked:
These were three sisters who have suffered the differences of their personalities and their places in the family, who are each dealing with their own problems. But Brown doesn't burden them with overly dramatic pasts and secrets that make it hard to believe they will ever be able to forgive each other.
The narration. Kirsten Potter is a reader I will look for again. It helps, of course, that of the five main characters, four were female. Still, her male characters were more than acceptable.
The relationship between the sisters is plausible and relatable. They bicker, they hide things from each other, they know how to get under each other's skin but they also know how to read each other when something is wrong. They love each other, even when they don't know it.
The battle between the insular world of Barnwell, Ohio and its college and the outside world each of the girls has to come to terms with. Brown paints a fair portrait of both options.
Oh so many references to books. This is an entire family of readers. A library plays a big part in the characters' lives. And all of the Shakespeare makes the book more literary than the story might otherwise feel.
The ending was just what I wanted from the book. Happiness in the right places. Resolution. And a little unpredictability.
What Didn't Work As Well For Me:
The Andreas parents are benignly negligent. I always have a hard time with that because it's so hard for me to relate to - my childhood memories are filled with interactions with my parents. Their discipline, care, proven love are clear reasons why I love them. How does someone love their parents as much as I love mine when they didn't have that background?
And the Shakespeare. I know I just said it was a good thing. But there was just so much of it. The father is a man whose passion has run amok (the girls are Rosalind - As You Like It, Bianca - The Taming of The Shrew, and Cordelia - King Lear after all) and who speaks almost entirely in quotes from the Bard. And I'm sure some of that would have rubbed off. But it just felt like too much some of the time. Still, it did go to show that Shakespeare is a guy that seems to have had an answer for everything.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. While there is some heavier subject matter, the book is not overly dark. In fact it's filled with a great deal of humor. With all of the relationships to discuss, the idea of small town versus big city, the concept of birth order, and an overarching theme of responsibility, there's a lot here a book club would find discussion-worthy.